War in Iraq: Al Qaeda’s Last Stand?
Retired general Tom McInerney thinks the Iraq War will be the end of al Qaeda.
War in Iraq looks like last stand for al Qaeda (Washington Times)
The war in Iraq is increasingly looking more like a showdown with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda followers than a battle primarily against Saddam Hussein loyalists. The shift is making the fight a focal point of the U.S. global war against Islamic terrorists and one that might dictate whether the U.S. wins or loses, said a senior official and an outside expert. “If they fail in Iraq, Osama and his whole crew are finished,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, a military author and analyst.
The changing dynamic was highlighted this week when the U.S. military launched a major offensive in western Iraq, primarily against foreign jihadists who crossed the border with Syria to join the al Qaeda network in Iraq led by Abu Musab Zarqawi. In a troubling sign, U.S. officers said Zarqawi’s terrorists seemed well-trained and well-equipped. The U.S. offensive, code named Operation Matador, entered its third day yesterday in the dusty border towns west of Baghdad near Syria. The command said three Marines and more than 100 enemy fighters have been killed.
“In the Muslim world and extremist world, this fight for Iraq is their key battle,” said Gen. McInerney. “If they lose it, they lose the war. And so the imams are inciting young people, not particular well-educated, to head to Iraq. Most are going through Syria via Damascus. “This is why Iraq is such a fundamental part of the global war on terrorism. When we finally defeat Muslim extremists, it will be the battle in Iraq that defeats them.”
An interesting argument. To be sure, the presence of large numbers of foreign jihadists is a result of the war rather than a cause of it. Still, if “fighting them there rather than here” was a major rationale for the Bush Doctrine, then we’ve succeeded in that regard.
The terrorists are still inflicting major damage and there is little sign that that will change any time soon. As our own leaders acknowledge, Abu Musab Zarqawi has hundreds of well-trained terrorists under his command and there seems to be a pretty steady supply to replace those being killed by U.S. forces.
It’s not entirely clear to me that al Qaeda will be finished when they lose in Iraq. They can lick their wounds and regroup to choose a softer target down the line. But McInerney is probably right that they see this as their major chance at achieving their objectives. Their goals, though, are sufficiently fantastic as to be unachievable. There’s no way that they can “win” in any grand sense. That doesn’t preclude their staging more 9/11-type attacks, though.